TECH

Everyone Deserves Internet Access, Mark Zuckerberg Says

The opinion is more controversial than you'd think.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring Internet access to everyone.

In a column published Monday in the Times of India, the Facebook CEO once again made his case for "free basic internet services." The column arrived just days before the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is slated to rule on net neutrality -- a decision that could have a major impact on Facebook's ability to provide services to people in India. 

"In every society, there are certain basic services that are so important for people’s wellbeing that we expect everyone to be able to access them freely," Zuckerberg wrote.

He compared basic access to the Internet to basic healthcare, basic education and basic library books. We repeat the word "basic" because the Facebook CEO did, underscoring that the Internet he envisions bringing to everyone is not the same thing you're likely reading this article on right now.

Instead, Zuckerberg's talking about Facebook's Free Basics platform. Free Basics, which operates under the Internet.org umbrella, provides limited services -- things like weather, health information, messaging and, yes, Facebook -- to people who otherwise might not be able to access the Internet at all. Facebook works with traditional service providers where possible, but is also developing new technology -- drones and lasers, for example -- to bring the Internet to remote areas. Internet.org's entire mission is to provide Internet access to regions of the world that don't have it.

It's easy to see how this could be a great thing: Access to online information can help people live better lives. But there may be a dark side. While Zuckerberg has insisted time and time again that his motives are pure, critics allege that the social media giant is creating a "ghetto for poor users" on the basis that Facebook provides limited services that it has complete control over. 

Some call it a walled garden. If you're in a remote part of the world and you want to get online, it's Facebook's drone beams or nothing. Fortune's Mathew Ingram put it succinctly earlier this year: Perhaps Facebook is harnessing its power to "become the Internet" in certain regions.

"This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests." Mark Zuckerberg

Essentially, critics claim that Free Basics and Internet.org violate the principles of net neutrality, which dictates that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

Zuckerberg has argued against that point for months

"This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests -- there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics. If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the Internet today," Zuckerberg wrote in Monday's column.

Still, good intentions aside, there's no denying that India is a potentially lucrative market for an organization that manages to provide Internet access. While it's the second most populous country in the world, only 375 million of its 1.25 billion people use the Internet. That's about 30 percent compared to 84 percent in the United States.

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